The Best Trailer Brake Controller and Why You Need One
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of accessories for trailering, but nothing makes a bigger difference than the best trailer brake controller. Especially when towing heavy loads, towing at higher speeds, or on difficult road conditions, an electronic brake controller can make the difference between stopping safely and having a trailer fishtail out of control. They add brains to your trailer brakes, rather than the simple on-off you might have with basic trailer wiring.
You can divide brake controllers into two categories, proportional and time delayed. A proportional controller uses a sensor to determine how hard the tow vehicle is braking. It calculates the right amount of force to apply to the trailer brakes, enabling the tow vehicle and the trailer to decelerate at the same rate. A proportional controller provides more progressive, gradual braking feel from the trailer and performs better under heavy braking. They’re not a new technology, and were developed not long after WWII.
A time-delayed controller is much simpler. These brake controllers detect when you apply the brakes, usually using the same signal your brake lights get, and send a signal to your trailer to apply the brakes. You usually have to set a braking force value and a time delay value based on the trailer weight, the road conditions, and a number of other factors.
You can see why a proportional trailer brake controller might be a better choice than a time-delayed brake controller. The controller does the work of calculating braking value and time delay automatically, they perform better in hard emergency braking, and they help even out wear between your trailer brakes and tow vehicle brakes. If you find yourself towing often, you’ll want a great proportional electric brake controller. If you only tow small loads occasionally, a time-delayed brake controller will work for you.
The one exception is towing on loose surfaces, like dirt or snow, where a proportional controller can get confused. Our Editor’s Pick solves that by offering both an intelligent proportional mode and user-selectable braking.
Together with a great trailer hitch (and a weight distribution hitch) The best trailer brake controllers will save you money on brakes—and liability claims—in the long run, not to mention making towing less stressful. See our Table of Contents for answers to common questions about trailer brake controllers, and tips on their installation and use.
Table of contents
- 1: Best Brand You Never Heard Of: REDARC Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller
- 2. Most Spohisticated: CURT Echo Electric Trailer Brake Controller
- 3. Best for Serious Towers: Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control
- 4. Best on a Budget: Reese BRAKE-EVN Trailer Brake Controller
- 5. CURT Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller (51110)
- 6. Tekonsha Primus IQ
- 7. Reese TowPower Brakeman
- 8. Hopkins InSIGHT Plug-In Simple! Brake Control
- 9. Reese Towpower Pod
- 10. Tekonsha Voyager
- Should I Get a Timed or Proportional Controller?
- How Do I Mount and Install a Trailer Brake Controller?
- What Size Trailer Needs Brakes?
- How Do I Know If My Truck Has a Brake Controller?
- Can I Tow a Trailer with Electric Brakes Without a Brake Controller?
- How do I Calibrate my Trailer Brake Controller?
- Recent Updates
1: Best Brand You Never Heard Of: REDARC Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller
If you're in North America, you might not know much about REDARC, but they've been making high-quality products at their own factories in Australia since 1979. The Tow-Pro Elite electric brake controller is unique and has both a proportional mode for highway use and a user-controlled mode, which can be very useful for off-pavement towing where a proportional controller might not be able to read the conditions.
The Tow-Pro Elite works with both hydraulic and electric brakes, and is compatible with both 12- and 24-volt systems. It needs a beefy 30 amp circuit for the install, but is capable of controlling up to a triple-axle/six brake trailer.
It comes with a universal switch and a bare pigtail harness, but some vehicles will require additional wiring for plug-and-play. If you have a Tekonsha, Curt, or Hopkins harness already installed, you can connect it directly, if you're willing to cut off the incompatible plug and splice it in. This controller is self-levelling, and has a three-way accelerometer allowing you to mount it in any direction. The illuminated knob is designed to automotive interior standards, with elastomer bushings and is safe to use in impact zones. There's even an insert to fill out the switch blank when you install the knob. Users report you do need to do a few hours of trailering to get the unit calibrated correctly.
REDARC has an A rating for review authenticity, and the Tow-Pro Elite has a 95% positive rating, tied with some Tekonsha models. However, there aren't as many reviews as the other controllers on the list, so that could change with time. REDARC has US and Canadian customer service and tech support numbers which connect you to Australia, but they have afternoon hours in North American time. There is a short two-year warranty on their brake controllers.
Proportional or user control, illuminated dial switch, clean install, universal pigtail included
Expensive, short warranty for a premium product
2. Most Spohisticated: CURT Echo Electric Trailer Brake Controller
Modern problems require modern solutions and if you're looking for a state-of-the-art trailer brake controller, check out CURT's Echo. What helps this proportional trailer brake controller stand out from the competition is its non-invasive and straightforward install process, which requires simply plugging it in, inline, into any seven-way connector. From there, it can wirelessly link to your smartphone using Bluetooth. This also means it's easily transferrable from one vehicle to another, which may come in handy for some vehicle owners. It also means you can remove it for security. Neither tools nor additional wiring are required for install, and it comes with a locking tab and strap to keep it firmly connected.
Once synced with your iOS or Android smartphone, you'll be able to use the Smart Control app to manage the brake controller and control all its brake settings from your phone. And if the Bluetooth connection is lost, you don't have your phone nearby, or it's simply out of battery, you don't have to worry—the controller will continue to function safely by using the most recently programmed settings. Another benefit of the app is the ability to store multiple user and vehicle-trailer profiles, so you can quickly switch from one to another.
As for the controller itself, it features a triple-axis accelerometer for smooth and safe braking. It works on virtually any trailer with one to two axles (two to four brakes) and is fully compatible with cruise control, anti-lock brakes, and low-voltage systems. It'll even send real-time notifications to your phone via the app if your trailer becomes overloaded or disconnected during travel.
The Echo has an 85% positive rating, over 1,600 reviews, and earns a B review quality rating. CURT Manufacturing offers a limited lifetime warranty, and has been in business since 1993. There is a toll-free US-based customer service number.
Bluetooth connectivity and app control, multiple profiles, easy inline installation, triple-axis accelerometer
Requires app to access most features, bluetooth connections can be spotty, expensive
3. Best for Serious Towers: Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control
Tekonsha may not have the same feature set of our Editor's Pick, but . In fact, the only thing that keeps it out of the #1 spot is that it needs to be wired in.
The Tekonsha P3 features a large LED readout screen with configurable colors, which will show the current of the system along with battery, brake, and output voltages. The P3, which is a proportional brake controller, easily plugs into your vehicle using an adapter (which you have to buy separately), and mounts to the bottom of your dash with an easily-removable snap-in clip. It requires no calibrating just plug it in, hook your trailer up, and you'll be on your way.
This device provides braking power for up to four axles and like the related P2, has a 'boost' function that will send full power to the trailer brakes in emergency braking situations. Tekonsha offers an integrated plug-and-play port for two-plug adapters.
The number of functions and options might be overwhelming or overkill if you're not towing very much, and there are other options on the list that will do the job for less money if you don't need the P3's functionality.
Tekonsha is a 58-year-old company based in Michigan. The P4 has an outstanding 96% percent positive rating with over 5,000 reviews, and a company B grade for authenticity. There is a limited lifetime warranty, and separate US based 800- numbers for customer service and technical support, along with customer support email. They're owned by Horizon Global, which makes other familiar towing brands including Reese and Draw-Tite.
Many settings and features, large LED screen, great functionality, lifetime warranty
Like all wired controllers, some applications need separate adaptors, complicated
4. Best on a Budget: Reese BRAKE-EVN Trailer Brake Controller
The Reese BRAKE-EVN is a popular, inexpensive proportional trailer brake controller with the ability to send braking power to four axles in total. It also features a small readout screen, which displays the current amount of voltage being sent to your trailer.
With a compact size, you may be able to tuck it away into an existing compartment, you can mount it to the bottom of your dash using the included brackets. You'll also want to ensure you have the correct wiring harness for your vehicle to use with this controller, because a separate T-connector is required.
It lacks some features of more expensive products, and there buttons are also mounted on the top, which can limit your mounting options. No leveling is required and the wiring connectors are plug and play.
There are great 94% positive ratings with over 4,000 reviews for the BRAKE-EVN, and Reese receives a company B grade, with few complaints. Reese's website says there's no warranty on the model 8508211 BRAKE-EVN, but the package says limited lifetime; while other information says three years. Reese shares 800- number customer service and technical support with Tekonsha, as well as customer service email.
Compact size, inexpensive, easy to use and install
Buttons mounted on top make mounting a challenge, lacks features, confusing warranty
5. CURT Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller (51110)
Designed to offer safe and dependable operation is CURT's Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller. This is an easy-to-use brake controller with a nice, visible LED display that allows you to monitor brake operation. This brake controller has no internal moving parts, so no leveling is required.
Features on this powerful brake controller include a manual brake slider button, an adjustable power toggle, and adjustable ramp time. According to CURT, you can use its electric trailer brake controller on virtually any trailer with one to three axles (two to six brakes). This unit is fully compatible with cruise control, anti-lock brakes, low voltage systems, and PWM systems.
Install is much easier if you purchase a CURT vehicle-specific quick plug harness, which is sold separately. This brake controller comes with an adjustable mounting bracket, so you can set it up for maximum visibility. The Venturer has a good 84% positive rating, and the company earns an A grade for review credibility. CURT Manufacturing offers a limited lifetime warranty on brake controllers, and a toll-free customer service and product support number based in Wisconsin.
Easy-to-use brake controller, bright LED display, no internal moving parts, works on any trailer with 1-3 axles, full of features
Takes quite a bit of time to setup properly depending on your trailer configuration, slide adjustments are touchy
6. Tekonsha Primus IQ
The Tekonsha Primus is an affordable proportional brake controller from the well-liked brand. The 90160 Primus has many of the same features as the other, more expensive brake controllers from Tekonsha, including a boost function, LED readout, and an automatically leveling accelerometer. But while more expensive products will support eight brakes across four axles, this controller only supports six across three.
Apart from that difference, this electronic brake controller is just as strong as other products from Tekonsha, most of which we'd highly recommend. We'd say this is a great electric brake controller for light-duty towers or anyone stepping up from a time delayed brake controller, but probably not suited for those who tow very often or have very heavy trailers. Like many electric brake controllers, you'll have to buy a T-connector separately.
The Primus has an outstanding 95% favorable rating across over 5,000 reviews, and a company B review rating. Like all Tekonsha controllers, there is a limited lifetime warranty, and separate US-based toll-free numbers for technical service and customer support. Aside from the one-touch boost feature, the Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ is an identical brake controller made by the same parent company, so there is a good opportunity for bargain shopping.
Easy to use, inexpensive, lifetime warranty
Supports three axles only, basic display and features
7. Reese TowPower Brakeman
With an affordable price and simple set-up, a Reese TowPower Brakeman time-based brake controller is the right choice for light-duty towing, or if you're primarily towing off-road. This trailer brake controller is probably the least expensive that you can find, and a huge improvement over no electronic brake control. It's also easy to install, with no leveling needed.
You adjust the sync on this product using the slider. It's designed for use on one or two axles (two or four individual brakes) and includes all necessary mounting hardware and brackets. Because it features no moving parts like a proportional controller would, it's also only 1.9 x 4 x 8.95 inches, giving you a lot of options when choosing where to install it
This trailer brake controller will work as advertised, but may not provide the same linear braking feel and outright braking performance as a proportional controller. If you're towing something light such as a lawn tractor or making a trip to the dump a few weekends a year, it'll provide a lot safety over a hardwired dumb setup. Reese offers a mediocre three-year limited warranty on the Brakeman, and the same US toll-free number for customer service as their other products. It has a good 86% positive rating and over 400 reviews, as well as good company B rating for review authenticity.
Very inexpensive, compact size
Not plug and play for some vehicles, lacks features
8. Hopkins InSIGHT Plug-In Simple! Brake Control
Hopkins packs a lot of features, and an exclamation point, into the InSIGHT Plug-In Simple! trailer brake controller. It's a three-piece product consisting of the controller itself, a tiny LED screen for displaying current voltage and warning the driver of any system problems, and a unique seven-position slider for adjusting the intensity of the brake application. It's the only brake controller on our list capable of operating four axles or eight brakes.
Actual mounting of the parts is easy, thanks to a comprehensive install kit, but each of the three components needs to be wired together, making it more work than other controllers. The actual controller module is sensitive to mounting position, limiting flexibility a little. It works with hydraulic or electric brakes, and has short circuit protection. You'll need to find a separate specific plug-in harness needed to work with your vehicle if you don't want to cut and splice wires.
Started in 1953 in Kansas, Hopkins has a toll-free technical support number, and a lifetime warranty on brake controllers. There's a very good 89% positive rating and almost 800 reviews, while Hopkins earns an B seller rating.
Slider makes it easy to adjust brakes on the fly, up to four axle brake control
Three-piece system requires lots of wiring
9. Reese Towpower Pod
The main benefit of the Reese Towpower Pod over other brake controllers is its compact size. If you own a smaller vehicle or simply don't want your brake controller to take up a lot of room in the cabin with you, this may be the brake controller for you. At 6.4 x 3.7 x 2.1 inches, it can be tucked in almost anywhere.
This is a timed brake controller, which has downsides compared to a proportional controller, but it's also very affordable. It provides braking power for only two axles, and you'll have to buy the proper adapter for your vehicle separately. It comes with a bracket and all the necessary mounting hardware you'll need, though. A warning light illuminates for problems with trailer continuity, short circuits, or brake failure.
Reese offers different warranties on different controllers; this one is five years limited, and there is a US toll-free number for customer service. It has a great 93% positive rating with over 400 reviews, and Reese has a good B company rating.
Very inexpensive, compact size
Not a proportional brake controller
This is a compact timed brake controller that's perfect for the casual or infrequent tower
10. Tekonsha Voyager
The Tekonsha Voyager is a mid-range proportional brake controller that will go unnoticed in your cabin with its unassuming appearance and 6 x 2 x 5 inch dimensions. With plug and play operation, you can pretty much forget about this brake controller once you've installed it, although it does feature sync settings. It provides braking for up to four axles and comes with a standard C bracket for mounting it to your dash. Tekonsha leverages their corporate expertise to build in advanced electronics minimize that false braking for a smoother ride.
One downside to this controller is the sensitivity of the different settings—changing the settings can result in a dramatic change in braking performance, so keep this in mind when calibrating the device to work with your vehicle and trailer. You'll have to find the correct adaptor for your vehicle separately, or splice it in.
Parent company Reese offers a lifetime guarantee on the model 9030 Voyager, with toll-free US technical support. Reviews are 90% positive, although there aren't as many compared to more popular brake controllers. Tekonsha has a B company grade as a seller, with some recent complaints.
Well priced, unassuming compact design, four-axle control
Very sensitive to setting adjustments
Should I Get a Timed or Proportional Controller?
In most circumstances, a proportional trailer brake controller will provide better braking than a timed brake controller.
A timed brake controller allows you to set a sync value, which adjusts the length of the delay between when you first press the brakes and when the controller applies the brakes on your trailer. The controller will then ramp the brakes, progressively applying more and more brake pressure as the vehicle slows to a stop, attempting to mimic the progressive braking action most drivers use. It's a "dumb" system—it does exactly the same thing every tine you brake, regardless of the road conditions or trailer weight.
A proportional brake controller uses a sensor or accelerometers to detects the rate at which your vehicle is braking, and mirrors how hard you're stopping when applying the trailer brakes. This allows the trailer and tow vehicle to slow down at the same rate.
If you tow often, or tow very heavy trailers, you should definitely opt for a proportional brake controller. They provide better, more linear braking performance and also perform better in heavy emergency braking events. If you are only towing smaller trailers and don't find yourself towing very often, a timed brake controller should do the trick and will save you some cash.
The exception is if you do most of your towing off road. Proportional brake controllers typically aren't very good at dealing with loose surfaces like dirt or snow. The best proportional trailer brake controllers are a lot better at figuring this out than they used to be, but it might still make sense to use a good timed one. A few offer two modes for just this reason.
How Do I Mount and Install a Trailer Brake Controller?
Most trailer brake controls will come with a mounting bracket and hardware. This bracket is typically intended to be screwed into the bottom of your dash, with the brake controller itself either screwing or sliding into the bracket.
What a trailer brake won't come with is a wiring harness. You will have to purchase the correct wiring harness for your vehicle separately. The wiring harness will plug into the trailer controller and a port underneath the dashboard, which you'll have to locate using the owner's manual or through online research (forums are a good place for such research), as the port's location can vary depending on the vehicle type.
In many common tow vehicles, like trucks and bigger SUVs, a trailer brake controller will be a simple plug and play installation into the port. You have to be mindful of which way you are mounting proportional trailer brake controllers, though, as you can throw off the accelerometer if they aren't mounted level or are mounted upside down.
If your vehicle is not equipped for towing, you'll have to run wires linking the trailer brakes, ground, vehicle brakes and battery power. This can be a much more complicated process, but there are plenty of wiring guides online to get you started. You may want to have professional do this wiring job as well if it's needed.
What Size Trailer Needs Brakes?
Whether they're electric or hydraulic, or hydraulic surge brakes, they're never a bad idea, because they help control the trailer. If you stop hard and the trailer doesn't have brakes, the only thing slowing it down is the trailer hitch. The trailer wants to keep going, and can easily swing around, or even pop off a ball hitch.
Legal requirements vary. Some places have a weight limit; in others it might be a percentage of the tow vehicle's weight. Many auto manufacturers say any trailer over 2,000 pounds should have brakes. Remember that without trailer brakes, your vehicle's brakes are stopping both, which is a lot of extra strain and wear. Two or three emergency stops with a 2,000-pound trailer might be enough to lose braking performance. Don't forget to add the weight of the cargo and the trailer itself together. Even a small utility trailer can easily weight 500 pounds all by itself.
How Do I Know If My Truck Has a Brake Controller?
Most trucks and many larger SUVs will have a button marked "Tow/Haul," but that doesn't mean there's a built-in brake controller. Usually, that just changes shift points to hold a gear at higher RPMs, and to downshift sooner for more engine braking. If there's a brake controller, it often comes with a heavy-duty or special tow package, and will almost always have the symbol above, along with a knob, buttons, slider, or sliders for brake control. Some vehicles will just have text and not the symbol; and some integrate the functions into a display screen. They'll still have the hand controls, however.
A few 3/4- and one-ton trucks include a brake controller, but it's only standard on certain high trim levels of half-ton trucks, and we're not aware of any SUVs of any trim level that offer a standard trailer brake controller.
Illustration: David Traver Adolphus/AutoGuide
Can I Tow a Trailer with Electric Brakes Without a Brake Controller?
You can, much like you can drive into a river, but no one involved is going to have a good time. It's probably not legal, you won't have any brake lights, and most importantly, your trailer won't have any brakes. If you were just moving a trailer around a yard, it's fine. But you do not want to be anywhere near a road or other people without working trailer brakes.
How do I Calibrate my Trailer Brake Controller?
Good question! Many time-based brake controllers will come with an instruction manual telling you how to properly calibrate the controller. You can also look this up online. We don't want to mislead you in regards to the proper calibration of your device, so you should definitely follow the manufacturer's suggestions when calibrating the device.
Most proportional brake controllers will calibrate themselves as you go—just plug it in and you'll be on your way! It may take either some time or a certain number of stops for your trailer brake to be done with the process, so an hour or two of gentle driving and stopping before you head out on a trip is a good idea.
March 1, 2022: Added promoted product recommendation.
January 26, 2022: Updated and added FAQ sections.
January 25: Added Redarc Tow-Pro Elite as Editor's Pick. Removed redundant Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ. Updated information for Hopkins InSIGHT and Tekonsha Voyager. Added FAQ sections.
January 24, 2022: Added additional information for CURT Venturer, Tekonsha Primus, Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ, and Reese Brakeman.
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After completing a degree project in automotive design, Dave wrote and photographed for almost a decade in print car magazines (remember those?), before transitioning to digital. He now subjects a series of old high-performance cars to the roads and weather in Vermont and wonders why they're always expensively broken. Please stop when you see him crawling under one on the side of the road.
More by David Traver Adolphus